There’s been an explosion in the technology of synthetic insulation materials in particular in this sector recently. These days there’s a wide choice when it comes to midlayers; from the humble half zip micro fleece to zoned air permeable synthetic insulation. Here’s a quick review of a few of my favourites at the moment. I’m going to include synthetic insulation only if the garment is designed for use whilst active. The proper insulation pieces that are designed for use when static or less active will come elsewhere in the Splitboarding & Ski Touring Clothing Guide.
PATAGONIA R1 HOODY
The definitive fleece hoody, the Patagonia R1 Hoody has been the most popular lightweight fleece garment amongst backcountry skiers and snowboarders, as well as pretty much everyone else, for a decade now.
The fabric has been tweaked over the years but generally speaking the Polartec Power Grid fabric strikes a nice balance between warmth and breathability. The hood and collar lock down on storm days and extra long length stays tucked in to cut out draughts. The R1 works as both a baselayer or a lightweight midlayer. You can’t go wrong.
PATAGONIA NANO AIR
The Nano Air is the piece that really kicked off the active insulation trend that’s become so big. The Hoody in particular is already a classic Patagonia product. The secret to its success is the way it manages to combine technical and comfortable. The super breathable and stretchy insulation package makes it a great option for use a midlayer in really cold conditions yet it’s so soft and comfortable that you can wear the thing with ease pretty much all the time in winter. Women’s version also available.
NORRONA LOFOTEN ALPHA RAW ZIP HOODIE
The Alpha Raw Zip Hoodie is a really interesting garment. It takes the material that Polartec use as the insulation in their Alpha package and builds and fleece hoody out of it. In reality it’s very similar to traditional Polartec High Loft, just thinner, lighter and more breathable. It should wick moisture like crazy too.
The Alpha Raw is extremely air permeable so expect to feel even the slightest breeze through the fabric. However it should work really well under a shell. I’m using one this winter so look out for a review in January. Women’s version available.
BLACK DIAMOND COEFFICIENT HOODY
Also available as a non hooded jacket, the Coefficient is made from a more substantial than usual version of Polartec Powerdry. It has a smooth face that repels light weather and layers easily and a lofty grid interior that traps warm air. It’s the ideal weight to stick on at the beginning of the day over a light baselayer and expect to wear all day. The long body ensures good coverage and the close-fitting hood layers under or over a hat and under a helmet. The single chest pocket is easy to access whilst in the skin track too. Women’s version also available.
BURTON AK HYBRID INSULATOR
A really nice looking midlayer from Burton. The ak Hybrid Insulator is a great option for anyone looking for a warm midlayer with a dose of style. Blending easy good looks and a relaxed fit with tech materials, the ak Hybrid Insulator has two different types of insulation in key areas. Across the shoulders and chest an 80gm stretch synthetic insulation provides warmth and durability. Through the torso high loft fleece is light, warm and, crucially, very breathable. This provides temperature regulation when active.
ARCTERYX ACTO FL JACKET
Back in the range after a couple of years, the Acto is a brilliant backcountry garment. Not really a fleece but not quite a soft shell either, the Acto kinda behaves like a cross between the two. It looks, feels and offers moisture protection like a soft shell yet breathes like a fleece. More info here.
ARC’TERYX SQUAMISH WINDSHIRT
Still the best windshirt on the market for ski touring and splitboarding, the Squamish Windshirt is the perfect super light layer for active use. It’s got a good hood, the crucial chest pocket, it fits well and is made from a great fabric too. I think layering a windshirt over a base / light midlayer works really well for splitboarding. Often it provides just enough protection, at least until the summit / descent and it’s difficult to overheat in such a lightweight garment. Women’s specific version available.
ORTOVOX MERINO WILD SKIN COURMAYEUR SHIRT
A merino wool shirt with stretch inserts for freedom of movement, the Ortovox Coumayeur is a tech shirt that breathes and regulates temperature. As it’s made from merino wool, it also keeps smells at bay – a definite advantage for a midlayer for ski touring or splitboarding. Full button opening and adjustable cuffs provide good venting options too. Women’s specific version available.
THE NORTH FACE RESPIRATOR JACKET
Every so often The North Face come along with something really cool. Part of The North Face Steep Series range, the Respirator Jacket is quite different from pretty much anything else out there and I reckon the combination of materials will work really well. Lightweight stretch woven softshell covers the shoulders, arms, hood and seat whilst grid fleece is used in the torso and on the back. This combo should give a nice balance of weather resistance, breathability, mobility and durability. The simple half zip design and chest pocket looks cool too.
OUTDOOR RESEARCH DEVIATOR HOODY
A super light take on the active synthetic insulation category, the Deviator Hoody is a really popular piece amongst the backcountry community. It has arms, back and hood made from Polartec Power Grid fleece and a front torso of 60g Polartec Alpha with a ripstop shell. More info on the Devaitor Hoody here. Women’s specific version available.